BISMARCKâ€”Drivers knowingly out on closed roads in hazardous conditions need to face bigger fines, state lawmakers ruled Tuesday.
The House voted 60-34 to increase the fine from $20 to $250 after much debate. The bill stems from concerns about the number of drivers on closed roads during the bad weather around New Yearâ€™s Eve.
The Department of Transportation testified that the current fine is not deterring motorists from breaking the law, said Rep. Gary Sukut, R-Williston. The cost for the rescue operation and the delay of getting the roads open afterward are a big cost to the economy, he said.
Motorists who ignore the closure put themselves, law enforcement, DOT road crews and others at risk, Sukut said.
Rep. Dwight Wrangham, R-Bismarck, opposed the bill, saying the $250 fine goes too far. He said he learned his lesson with a $20 fine after driving around a closed road notice last spring.
Rep. Jeff Delzer, R-Underwood, said similar bills have failed in the past because there are too many times that drivers can end up on a closed road without knowing itâ€™s closed.
â€œThis says â€˜not knowingly,â€™ but really who decides that?â€ he said.
Rep. Dan Ruby, R-Minot, said the bill applies to going around a gate and does not apply if a driver is further down the road and unaware that roads were closed. The bill is a deterrent for people who now decide to take their chances with a $20 fine, he said.
Rep. Bob Skarphol, R-Tioga, said the fine is excessive. He said there are times when people have legitimate reasons to go past the road closed gates.
Ruby said all of these issues were discussed in committee, and legislators felt comfortable that law enforcement will use prudence when making decisions of whether to allow someone on the road.
The House amended Senate Bill 2157, so it must now go back to the Senate for review.
Property tax reform
The House voted 89-4 on Tuesday to approve a bill that Rep. Mark Owens, R-Grand Forks, describes as a first step for property tax reform.
The House amended the bill so it no longer requires an exterior and interior inspection of each home and business at least once every 10 years.
However, the bill still allows the state supervisor of assessments to petition the tax commissioner for a hearing to revoke the certification of a tax assessor. There would be an appeal process and the opportunity to get the certificate back.
The bill also requires assessors to keep records for each parcel of taxable property.
It also directs the state board of equalization to equalize the classification and taxable status of real property in any assessment district in a county and in every county in the state in which the board determines the classification or taxable status is incorrect or inequitable.
The bill provides for reviews of selected properties within each county to verify the accuracy of property assessment listings, valuations, classifications and eligibility for exemptions.
The board may order a new assessment of any class of property if, in its opinion, taxable property has escaped assessment in whole or part, has been assessed unfairly or has not been assessed according to law.
â€œI think itâ€™s a major step in the right direction,â€ said bill sponsor Sen. Dwight Cook, R-Mandan.
The amended bill now goes back to the Senate for review.